The most effective and powerful governor in the last sixty years, and probably Alabama history, would be Gov. George Wallace. This was especially true when it came to getting his programs through the legislature. However, when you look at the other governors he was competing with over the last sixty years, there were not very many because Wallace was governor for practically one third of those sixty years. So you might say he was successful because he had a lot of experience being governor and dealing with the legislature. Although that is true, Wallace’s success went deeper. He worked hard at it.

During my sixteen years in the legislature, Wallace was in a league of his own. My first term in the legislature was 1982 and George Wallace was serving his last term as governor. He treated each of us like kings. It did not matter who was in his office. If you were a member of the legislature and you needed to see the governor about something for your district, he would drop everything, usher you into his office, and do everything he could to address your concerns or district needs.

One day I went down to the Governor’s office unannounced and his secretary told him I was outside. The next thing I knew the door opened and Wallace told me to come on in. He had about six Japanese diplomats in his office, who were potential industrial prospects, but Wallace asked me if I wanted him to ask them to leave so we could meet privately. Of course I responded, “No Governor that is not necessary. I will be glad to come back later.” However, Wallace insisted on my staying while they visited. As I sat down, he began telling the poor Japanese fellows that I had been a page when I was a little boy while he, Gov. Wallace, was in his first term as governor and now I was his representative because I represented his hometown of Clayton. He then proceeded to tell them who he was kin to in my county and who I was kin to in south Alabama. I am sure they were amused. Who could not help but vote with a guy who gave a lowly member of the House that kind of attention and deference?

At other times, Wallace would call my home at suppertime and talk for about thirty minutes about a certain bill he was interested in. He would continue to talk long after I had already told him that I would vote with him on the issue. Wallace would also constantly invite all of the legislators out to the Governor’s Mansion for supper. We ate with the governor more than with the lobbyists. He knew your district, your family and relatives, what committees you served on, and what programs and roads you were interested in. The only thing he did not know was what time you went to bed because he lived on the telephone. He might call you at 6 p.m. during supper or at 11 p.m. when you were asleep.

By contrast, poor old Fob James was a complete failure in dealing with the legislature. He gave the impression that he did not want to be governor nor that he liked the job very much. If you lined all 140 legislators up in front of Fob, he could not have called even 20 by their first names. Fob was as remarkably inept at getting anything done with the legislature as Wallace was successful.

Some may be surprised to know that next to Wallace one of the most efficient and effective governors in dealing with the legislature during my tenure was Guy Hunt. He surrounded himself with experienced and savvy political veterans. He personally worked with legislators diligently. Like Wallace, he would have us out to the Governor’s Mansion frequently. He was able to build a coalition in the House made up of conservative Democrats and Republicans. Hunt was on the right side of sound pro-business legislation which passed during his administration.

By the time Don Siegelman became governor partisan bickering and acrimony had arrived in the legislative corridors. His initiatives were thwarted by the partisan stalemate. This legislative gridlock has continued throughout the tenure of Bob Riley.

George Wallace was the king of not only Alabama politics, but also a political genius and master of legislative success. He was not only gifted at both, he also worked hard at both. Times have changed dramatically since the Wallace days.